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Why is my waist size important?

Dr Amandeep Hansra

Bring out the measuring tape – your waist size matters

A woman smiles as she runs along a track outdoors
A woman smiles as she runs along a track outdoors

Why is my waist size important?

Most of us know that being overweight can lead to various health issues, but did you know that your waistline size can indicate your risk of developing certain (serious) medical conditions?

“Risk of a health problem is not just influenced by how much you weigh but also where in your body you store fat,” explains GP Dr Amandeep Hansra. “Having a lot of body fat around your waist can be associated with a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and stroke.”

What is a healthy waist measurement?

In essence, the bigger your waistline measurement, the higher your risk of chronic disease. For women, that risk increases with a waist circumference of 80cm or higher and for men it’s 94cm or more. And it doesn’t end there: “If you are a woman, your risk of certain diseases is greatly increased at 88cm or more; if you are a man, your risk of certain diseases is greatly increased at 102cm or more,” adds Amandeep.

Why your waist size is important

You might’ve heard of body mass index (BMI), which is a measure for estimating total body fat and is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared. But while it can be a useful tool, the distribution of fat on your body is more important than the amount when it comes to predicting health risks – and that’s where waist measurement comes into play.

“Body mass index is still an important measure as it tells us, using your height and weight, if your weight is healthy overall,” advises Amandeep.

“Waist circumference, however, adds extra information about where that body fat is stored. Most doctors will use both these measures to help assess your risk.”

Related: Understanding visceral fat

A sweaty man works out on an elliptical machine at the gym

What are the drawbacks?

Of course, there are certain circumstances where waistline size isn’t an accurate predictor of health.

“Waist measurement can be less accurate in some situations including pregnancy, for certain ethnic groups, children and if someone has a condition that leads to enlargement of their abdomen,” says Amandeep. “With a BMI over 35, waist circumferences also become less useful.”

How to measure your waist size

So, how can you tell if you have a healthy waist measurement? It’s easy!

  1. 1

    Grab a measuring tape (make sure it’s not old or stretched out).

  2. 2

    Remove any loose or bulky clothing and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

  3. 3

    Find the top of your hip bone and the bottom of your ribs.

  4. 4

    Breathe normally and place your tape measure halfway between the two points, then wrap it around your waist. It should be loose enough for you to slide a finger underneath the tape.

  5. 5

    Check your measurement.

Related: How obesity ups your chronic disease risk and what to do about it

Achieving a healthy waist measurement

If you find your waist size is on the larger side, don’t despair – as Amandeep explains, there’s plenty you can do to achieve a healthy waist measurement.

“There are a few ways to manage and reduce accumulation of fat in this area. It responds well to diet and exercise. Engaging in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days can reduce your waist circumference, even if your overall weight does not come down,” she says.

Doing at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days can reduce your waist size

For moderate-intensity exercise, you want to get your heart rate up without becoming breathless. And don’t forget incidental exercise – walking instead of taking a car or getting off public transport one stop early and using the stairs instead of an elevator are all other ways to contribute to your daily activity log.

There are also lifestyle changes to consider if you’re trying to reduce your waistline size and reach a healthy waist measurement.

Smoking also increases fat storage in your abdominal region,” says Amandeep. “And making sure your sleep is adequate also can positively influence where your fat is stored.”

There’s so much advice out there about weight loss that it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. Is skipping breakfast bad? Can you eat carbs and still lose weight? Does the keto diet live up to the hype? Check out our article Weight loss: Fact and fiction for all the answers.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.

Dr Amandeep Hansra

Dr Amandeep Hansra has been a GP for more than 17 years. A leader in digital health, she has a special interest in women's health, chronic disease and mental health. She loves traveling and has visited 87 countries, and is hoping to get to 100 in the next five years.